In this month's Inspirations, Alice Hemming tells Anita Loughrey for Words & Pictures how she is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen.

Picture this: A little barefoot girl, attempting to sell matches in the streets on New Year’s Eve, freezes to death rather than returning home penniless.

Ok, so as an elevator pitch for a pre-school story, it probably wouldn’t hook a commissioning editor today. But this is the storyline of one of the first bedtime stories that I remember capturing my attention. The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen, of course.

Revisiting the story as an adult, it’s difficult to imagine what appealed to four-year-old me, but I think it has something to do with the comfort that is to be found within the tale. Yes, it’s bleak, upsetting and overly sentimental, but my take-home images were those flashes of warmth provided by the matches as the little girl tries to keep warm in the snow. A ‘polished stove’. A table set with a mouth-watering feast. A Christmas tree ablaze with candles. And, above all, the hug from the grandmother.

Pure cosiness.

I was hooked on Hans Christian Andersen. I read (and had read to me) many of his classics. Ladybird’s Well-Loved Tales introduced me to stories like The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes. They were funny, memorable and unique. I loved all the books in the collection, but his stood out.

Various books by Hans Christian Andersen

Of course, even though Andersen lived over 150 years ago, his literary fairytales are more modern than traditional oral tales. He created real-life characters with names (albeit mainly identikit blonde heroines), as opposed to cardboard cutout peasant girls and beautiful princesses. His stories have real settings and real humour.

He felt cold but he said, “This will be a beautiful suit of clothes. The cloth is so light that I can hardly feel it.”

(Andersen, HC, The Emperor’s New Clothes [Well Loved Tales] Retold by Lynne Bradbury

Illustrations by Sally Long. Loughborough 1980.)

As I moved on from Ladybird books, I came across some of his lesser-known tales, whose titles alone hint at something unusual and magical, even if the stories themselves are a little strange. I can’t imagine The Galoshes of Fortune or The Old Bachelor’s Nightcap making it to a publishing meeting but they certainly intrigue. The stories break many of the ‘rules’ that we try to follow today.

1. They feature anthropomorphic household items:

There was once a Darning-Needle, who thought herself so fine, she imagined she was an embroidering-needle.

The Darning Needle 1909. (Andersen, HC, Fairy Tales and Stories.

 Translated by HW Dulcken. London: Routledge)

2. They end with dubious moral messages:

And it was done as she said; all the storks were named Peter, and so they are all called even now.

The Storks (as above)

But none of this put me off.

I read Andersen’s autobiography, The Fairy Tale of My Life, although I still prefer the 1952 film with Danny Kaye!

I visited the 200th birthday exhibition at the British library in 2005.

I admired the statue of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.

Alice Hemming in Copenhagen

When I had children of my own, I was keen that they should be introduced to the magic and I bought beautiful, illustrated copies of The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid. Typically, they weren’t very interested, and preferred the picture books from fellow SCBWI authors and illustrators that I brought home from the Conference. I didn’t mind, though. I reclaimed the books for my own collection and continued to acquire more. As well as the more traditional tales, I love reading how other authors have interpreted his stories and made them his own.

A couple of my favourites are Lauren Child’s version of The Princess and the Pea, where the action all happens in a dollhouse world. Who wouldn’t want to lie on twenty feather mattresses when a storm is raging outside the castle?

And Tinder by Sally Gardner: an interpretation of The Tinder Box set in the Thirty Years War, with beautifully gruesome illustrations by David Roberts. It’s an adult book, full of blood and gore but again, my favourite moments are always the cosy parts in the bleakness:

I ate the food and drank the wine that had been brought for me before sinking into sweet-smelling sheets. As the fire crackled in the grate, I felt my whole body relax into the luxury of good living. ‘This,’ I said to the candle flame as I snuffed it out, ‘this is just the beginning.’

(Gardner, S. Tinder, Orion 2013)


Andersen hasn’t influenced my writing style, in that every Andersen fairytale I’ve read has been in translation, but he’s had a huge impact on my storytelling.

Each of my Dark Unicorn books draws on traditional fairytales for inspiration, but my latest in the series, The Frozen Unicorn (Scholastic 2022), is the first to reference Hans Christian Andersen. It gives more than a couple of nods to my absolute favourite story (or seven stories) of Andersen’s: The Snow Queen.

Cover of The Frozen Unicorn, by Alice Hemming

In The Frozen Unicorn, my protagonist crosses a snowy landscape to confront an antagonist with a frozen heart, to save her lost love. She even meets a hostile stranger in a flower garden, magically blooming in the snowy landscape. Hopefully, I took these ideas and made them my own. Above all, I tried to capture the feeling of magical warmth and safety that I found in his work. One of my characters even collects all thing cosy and warm.

I was wondering, since you like warm places so much…why do you live in a cold place like this?” “I should have thought it was obvious. I don’t like warm places; I like cosy places. Cosy. No one’s ever cosy in the summer, are they?
(Hemming, A. The Frozen Unicorn, Scholastic 2012)


I’m sure I will continue to draw on Andersen’s stories for inspiration. Maybe I’ll even have a chance to write some retellings one day. What’s certain is that I will continue to read them, and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen will always give me a warm glow.

* All photo credits: Alice Hemming


Alice Hemming writes for children of all ages. She has over 50 books published in the UK and internationally, including picture books and chapter books. She has also written for websites, reading schemes and even a talking bear! Two of her books were selected for the National Library Summer Reading Challenge. As well as writing, she loves visiting schools to share her work and runs literacy workshops.


Anita Loughrey writes educational fiction and non-fiction for primary schools. She has 100+ books published by a multitude of publishers both in the UK and internationally. In her spare time she is working on a fantasy adventure for middle-grade. She has two regular slots in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum, one on writing for children, the other on author’s research secrets. Find out more about Anita and her books on her website:

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